America's Mortal Goddess
AFS Essential Cinema enchants with Marilyn Monroe
"Dear Marilyn ..." There, below the famously simple nameplate on Marilyn Monroe's remains in Westwood Cemetery, Los Angeles, a note wrapped around a single red rose lay on the ground.
"... Your movies have brought us such great pleasure. Thank you." It was signed by a man and woman with very German names for whom, decades after her death, Marilyn Monroe's work meant something.
And what is it about her that still beguiles? The nine films and lone documentary of the Austin Film Society's aptly named series More Than Meets the Eye: The Life and Films of Marilyn Monroe balances the appeal of her still-luminous beauty and onscreen charisma with the recognition of her acting talents working with such directors as Howard Hawks (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Otto Preminger (River of No Return), Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot), and even Laurence Olivier, with whom she also starred in The Prince and the Showgirl.
Truthfully, Monroe was at no career peak when she died, yet the series arcs her growth by including her first role of real note – 1948's Ladies of the Chorus – plus 1953's sultry Niagara and the scenery-chewing staginess of 1956's Bus Stop. She showed a better flair for comedy (1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire) than drama, but by the early Sixties, roles for thirtysomething sex kittens were beginning to thin. Her role opposite Clark Gable in 1961's The Misfits is captivating, though she arguably performs her finest comedic turn in 1959's Some Like It Hot, when her experience, effort, and beauty meet in the matchless role of a 1920s performer mixed up with the mob. (Noticeably absent from the series is her most famously photographed role in The Seven Year Itch.)
Monroe sought to improve her acting with various coaches and through classes at the Actors Studio, and she evinced yearning for approval all her life, according to Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess, the 1994 documentary that kicks off the series and included Arthur Miller, George Cukor, Jane Russell, and Joe DiMaggio.
But if that note at the cemetery is any indication, she was an immortal goddess, too.
More Than Meets the Eye: The Life and Films of Marilyn Monroe
This installment of the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series runs June 4 through July 30. Screenings are at 7pm weekly at the Alamo Village (2700 W. Anderson) and the Marchesa Hall & Theatre (6226 Middle Fiskville). See www.austinfilm.org for ticket and location information.
June 4: Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess (D: Kevin Burns, Jeff Scheftel, 1994)
June 5: Ladies of the Chorus (D: Phil Karlson, 1948)
June 11: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (D: Howard Hawks, 1953)
June 18: Niagara (D: Henry Hathaway, 1953)
June 25: How to Marry a Millionaire (D: Jean Negulesco, 1953)
July 2: River of No Return (D: Otto Preminger, Jean Negulesco [uncredited], 1954)
July 9: Bus Stop (D: Joshua Logan, 1956)
July 16: The Prince and the Showgirl (D: Laurence Olivier, 1957)
July 23: Some Like It Hot (D: Billy Wilder, 1959)
July 30: The Misfits (D: John Huston, 1961)